The rise in popularity of social networking means that each one of us can now have two different presences. We have our bodily, physical, presence. The place where you actually are with the people who can actually see you and touch you. But we can also have an online, virtual, presence. I can send a text encouraging someone in our community, and have a real impact in their lives. Or I can write a blog which gets read by someone I've never met, in a country I've never been to, which can take that person closer to God without me ever realising it.
Someone asked me this week which of these two presences, physical or virtual, is the more important. My immediate reaction was to say that our physical presence is the most important one. That we can always have a bigger impact on the people we actually physically spend time with, than the ones we interact with virtually. But having reflected on it I'm not so sure.
Take preaching. You don't have to go far back in history to find a time when preachers would refuse to be recorded, or to even have their sermons written down and distributed. Their belief was that preaching wasn't proper preaching unless the people you were talking to were in the same room as you. Yet we now live in an age where events such as the Willow Creek GLS reaches far more people through DVDs, podcasts and satellite links than ever experience it live in Willow's auditorium. Is the preachers physical or their virtual presence having a bigger impact?
Or go back further and consider the writing of Paul. He had an amazing physical presence, planting numerous churches, seeing untold people saved, and keeping the apostles in Jerusalem on the straight and narrow. Yet it is his virtual presence, through the letters he wrote, which have I would argue have had a bigger impact, both on the people alive at the time when he was writing the letters, and certainly since. If he'd given all his time and energy to just being with the people he was actually with, his impact would have been far more limited in terms of both time and geography.
So let's not underestimate the power of our virtual, online, presence. In the first of these blogs I wrote about not being afraid of technology, but grabbing it with both hands and making full use of it's potential. You might not be a preacher, you certainly won't ever write a book of the Bible, but you can use your online presence to take people up in their lift, to take them closer to God and to see his kingdom grow.
I'll finish this series of blogs with one more observation. You can only be in one place at any one time (brilliant I know!). You're either interacting with the physical world around you, or the virtual one online, but you can't do both at the same time. Even if you're a girl and can multi task! So at any point in time choose which world you're in.
I was sat in a coffee shop a couple of weeks ago. There were two ladies on the table next to me. One of them was pouring her heart out to her friend, but as she was doing this her friend was constantly looking at her phone, reading and writing texts and making virtually no eye contact. I've seen the same scenario on holiday around a pool, with children pleading with the parents to come and play with them, whilst their parents send just one more email. At Kerith I've had to ban certain people from having their phones in staff meetings, because all their attention is on the phone rather than the topic we're discussing. By all means take every possible opportunity to make the maximum possible use of your online presence, but choose when and where you're going to do that, and don't ever let the people in your physical world feel that you're more interested in your iPhone than you are in them!